Professor Dritan Agalliu had an opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate, and that opportunity helped shape his future education and career paths. Based on his experience both as a student and mentor, he considers research to be an important part of an undergraduate education. Students in his lab benefit from the hands-on participation in their projects, the opportunities to present and publish their work, and the relationships they begin to form within their field. Professor Agalliu also appreciates the fresh outlook that undergraduates bring to his lab. For students considering research, he recommends that they find a project about which they are passionate and devote themselves to pursuing it wholeheartedly. Professor Agalliu is likewise passionate about working with his students, and UROP is pleased to recognize his dedication to undergraduate research.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

I am originally from Albania, a very poor former communist country with no resources for research. I have been interested in research since I was a high school student and decided to leave Albania and move to the United States in order to become a research scientist. During my undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, I received a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) fellowship that allowed me to conduct research in the development of zebrafish for one and a half years. This was truly an outstanding experience for me that shaped my future research interests to pursue a graduate degree in Genetics and Development at Columbia University in New York and postdoctoral training in Neuroscience at Stanford University. I like to mentor undergraduate students so that I can instill in them a passion for basic and translational scientific research and provide them with opportunities similar to those that I had as an undergraduate student so that they can succeed in their future scientific careers.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I am looking for students who are passionate about their research and can't wait to come to the laboratory to find out about the results of their experiments. As an undergraduate, I spent a lot of time in the lab conducting experiments and being very passionate about my work. Therefore, I seek highly motivated, intelligent students who are interested in research and don't want to be in the laboratory simply to obtain a letter of recommendation for their medical or graduate school applications.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

I usually pair every undergraduate student with either a graduate student or a postdoctoral fellow so that they can learn from the expertise of the senior people. I encourage undergraduate students to meet with me and discuss the goals and progress of their projects. At the end of each quarter, we have a group meeting where all undergraduate students present their research and get evaluated by postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and me. In addition, I request students to write a scientific report in form of a paper documenting their achievements or problems during the quarter. I provide them with written feedback, and I base my grade for Bio199 research on their research performance, oral presentation and written report. This allows students to master not only research skills but also presentations and science writing skills that are crucial for every successful scientist.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

Although I have been at UC Irvine for only three years, I have seen several students who have benefited tremendously from undergraduate research in my laboratory. One of my best undergraduate students, Martin Hsu, who was a SURP fellow, now works as a Research Assistant in my laboratory and is planning to apply to graduate school at the end of this year. He is dedicated to doing research, and this dedication is reflected in his inclusion as an author in a paper that was just published in Neuron. He will also be an author in another paper that we are submitting in the near future. In addition, I have a second outstanding SURP fellow, Julian Smith, who is currently conducting research in understanding changes in the blood-brain barrier in multiple sclerosis. Julian is capable of performing and presenting research at the graduate student level and is planning to apply to graduate school. I have also several minority students who are doing excellent research in the laboratory.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

Undergraduate students have fresh minds and they look at the data very differently from established investigators. Sometimes, this can be good since it provides a new view to look at a scientific problem.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

I would suggest for undergraduate students who are interested in research to be passionate about their projects and join a laboratory where they find that excitement that keeps them going to the laboratory all the time. Students should actively look at the faculty profiles to find research that sparks their interest and they should contact the faculty whose research interests them the most; students will be surprised how many faculty who are looking for undergraduate students do not advertise on the UROP website. Finally, if you are taking a class with a professor that you really like, please talk to him/her about their research. As faculty, we like to tell you about our work and have you join our labs.

Research Interests: Blood-brain barrier, central nervous system, development, disease, stroke, CNS autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, PANDAS/PANS

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '14 Emiliana Borrelli
Nov. '14 Joel Veenstra
Oct. '14 Jonathan Alexander
Sep. '14 Leslie M. Thompson
Aug. '14 Jonathan R.T. Lakey
Jul. '14 Diego Rosso
Jun. '14 James Kyung-Jin Lee
May. '14 Lisa Pearl
Apr. '14 Jayne Elizabeth Lewis
Mar. '14 Donald Jay Patterson
Feb. '14 Dritan Agalliu
Jan. '14 Stephanie Reich